The historic Harlow Old Fort House was built in 1677 by William Harlow, an officer in the local militia. The home was built in the typical Pilgrim style and is a great representation of how the earliest settlers survived in New England. The home was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Currently, it is operated as a museum and is maintained by the Plymouth Antiquarian Society.
The house was built in 1677 by
Sergeant William Harlow. William Harlow
was born in England around 1624 and had arrived in Plymouth by 1646. He married three times. First, he married Rebecca Bartlett in
1648. Later, Harlow married Mary Faunce
and finally Mary Shelley. Between his
three wives, Harlow fathered fourteen children.
Harlow worked as a cooper and
held several minor, official posts in the local government during his lifetime.
Harlow was also an officer in the local militia, who fought to protect the
colony during King Philip’s War (1676-1677). When the war was over, the
Pilgrim’s fort-house on Burial Hill, which Harlow defended, was torn down. It is believed that Harlow used salvaged
material from the ruined fort to build his home. A jack pine beams runs from the great room,
or “Hall,” into the next room, supporting the belief that the timber was
previously used in another structure.
The Harlow House is a small,
one-and-a-half story structure with a gambrel roof. The “Hall” is the largest room on the first
floor. There is a large, brick fireplace
in this room with an oven built into it.
Also in this room is an assortment of chairs, chests, spinning wheels
and other items dating back to the seventeenth century. The walls are covered by a plaster of clay
and straw. This is reminiscent of an old
English technique that followed the early Pilgrims to the new world.
Towards the rear of the home,
visitors will find the scullery and buttery (also known as the pantry). The cheese press that sits in the scullery still
functions to this day. The children’s
room, bedrooms, and storage rooms are upstairs. Outside the house, there is a
corn patch, a well, and an herb garden in the backyard. There is also an old wooden shed which had
been utilized as a workshop, classroom and kitchen for the museum decades ago. Then, the structure was remodeled and
converted into a modern kitchen and dressing room while a new building was
constructed for the workshop and classroom.
The home was owned by the Harlow
family (William and his descendants) for nearly 250 years. Ownership of the property was transferred to
the Plymouth Antiquarian Society in 1920.
Members of the society worked hard to renovate the structure’s interior
and exterior to bring it back to its original appearance. In 1921, it was opened to the public as a living
museum. There is a docent dressed in
early colonial clothing who tells visitors about the hard-working lifestyle of
the Pilgrims, even showing them how to spin wool, dip candles, and cook as they
would have done in the 17th century.
Admission to the museum is very affordable. Ticket prices are $5.00 each for adults and $2.00 each for children.